In memory of dad, Ball State's Duke perseveres

Ball State senior Autumn Duke

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1Alison LeeUCLA  69.96 
2Stephanie MeadowAlabama  70.17 
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5Celine BoutierDuke  70.40 

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Larry Duke was among the most enthusiastic of golfing parents. He and wife Judy regularly would host and feed daughter Autumn’s entire Ball State team at the Dukes' home in Fishers, Ind., as well as put up any other golfer who needed a place to stay for a tournament. In fact, Ball State head coach Katherine Mowat could volunteer the Dukes without even asking permission. She knew they’d always open their doors.

Given that level of involvement, when Larry, 55, died in a motorcycle accident Sept. 16, it sent shockwaves through the Ball State program. Autumn’s resolve in the face of her father’s death is something Mowat says she rarely has witnessed.

The accident happened on the rare off weekend at the beginning of the fall season. Autumn Duke, a senior and team captain, was turning 22 on Sunday Sept. 16, which is part of the reason Mowat had structured the schedule that way. Then Mowat got a phone call Saturday afternoon from Duke, explaining that her father had been in an accident while participating in a memorial motorcycle ride near Bloomington.

“Right away she was incredibly composed,” Mowat said. “In her mind, he was going to be OK.”

Larry was to be life-flighted to Louisville, Ky., but was rerouted in the air to Indianapolis. Larry’s brain damage was severe enough that he could survive only on life support. The Dukes waited until their entire family had assembled at Larry’s bedside early in the morning on Sept. 16 to say their goodbyes. It’s a date Autumn and Larry will always share. Said Mowat, “I told her that she and her dad were so close, this is a way you’re connected for life.”

On Ball State's campus in Muncie, Mowat began calling her team one player at a time. The girls gathered at the apartment Duke shared with three teammates.

“We gathered, we hugged, we cried,” Mowat said. “It was one of those situations where, what do you do?”

Mowat first saw Duke the next day. Immediately the conversation went to Ball State’s upcoming home invitational, the Cardinal Classic.

“She said, ‘Coach, I want to play in the tournament, but I want to play as an individual,’ ” Mowat said. “I told her she had a spot on the team.”

Duke was worried that her game wasn’t in good enough shape to help her team, because she hadan’t been to the course since her dad’s death. Golf was something the two had shared, and she knew the first tournament round would come with many emotions. When the rest of the team heard that Duke wanted to play that weekend, they convinced her to play for the team. They attended the visitation Sept. 19 and the funeral the next day. Ball State played a practice round Sept. 20 and teed off for Round 1 on Sept. 21.

With her gallery swelling throughout the weekend, Duke shot rounds of 78-75 to tie for fifth, a career-high finish. Ball State won the individual title. Mowat witnessed mouths drop in awe of Duke’s focus and determination.

“I’ve never witnessed that much courage and been part of something so inspirational,” Mowat said. Duke, a senior, will stay at Ball State for the next two years as a graduate student and assistant to Mowat’s program.

Mowat met Duke in tears after the round and asked how she had managed to get through it.

“She said, 'I don’t know, but I’m glad I did.' ”

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